Challenger teams square off
AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- The America's Cup challengers' regatta, although unofficial, is being as closely contested as the Louis Vuitton Cup itself.
The racing has been organised by the Challenger of Record Management (CORM) as a practice for its own race management for the Louis Vuitton Cup, an elimination series that decides who will challenge New Zealand in February 2002 for the America's Cup.
Even though no official results or times are being published, the CORM regatta is a good pointer to see how far the contenders have progressed.
All the teams are sailing with yachts built for the 2000 Cup series. A true indication of performance will not be possible until the new 2002 designs are raced, but these will be kept well away from prying eyes until the Louis Vuitton racing starts on October 1.
The ten teams set to contest the Louis Vuitton Cup include some of the best sailors and the most powerful billionaires in the world.
On the first day of the CORM regatta, which began on Sunday, it was the Swiss Alinghi team that looked most impressive.
Sailing a much modified BeHappy purchased from the 2000 Swiss team, Team New Zealand's winning combination of helmsman Russell Coutts and tactician Brad Butterworth, recruited by Swiss pharmaceutical billionaire Ernesto Bertarelli, first dispatched Oracle Racing and then Prada's Young America with over two minute wins.
Not content to watch from the sidelines, Ernesto Bertarelli, named as the world's 31st richest man this week by Forbes magazine with a fortune of $8.4 billion, is navigating Alinghi.
The race against Prada was a particularly poignant reminder of the first race of the last America's Cup when Team New Zealand went on to win 5-0.
The starting helmsman of Prada was new Kiwi match racing recruit Gavin Brady who came off the line even with Alinghi.
On the first cross Prada were ahead, but then Russell Coutts protected the right hand side of the course eventually leaving the Italians struggling behind as Prada's number one helmsman Francesco de Angelis took the wheel.
It was an unhappy day for De Angelis who had already lost to the British GBR Challenge by less than a minute in the first race of the day.
Prada won the start and crossed ahead of GBR sailed by starting helmsman Andy Green, but as the wind shifted right GBR benefited from the race committee's mistake in laying the mark too far to the left and rounded just ahead of Prada.
Britain's nominated skipper Ian Walker took over the helm and bravely held off the Italian's repeated attacks upwind and downwind until the finish.
Larry Ellison's San Francisco U.S. challenger Oracle Racing also took a bit of a bruising. Helmed by New Zealander John Cutler after the sidelining of number one skipper Chris Dickson earlier in the week, Oracle first lost to Alinghi and then the Prada 'B' team of Rod Davis sailing Luna Rossa.
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